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Cole Bassett breaks through late to push USMNT to record 17th win in a friendly vs. Bosnia and Herzogovina

The USMNT looked like it was about to waste the advantage of playing a man up, until the very end of the game.

Cole Bassett (center) celebrates after scoring the winning goal.
Cole Bassett (center) celebrates after scoring the winning goal.Read moreMarcio Jose Sanchez / AP

CARSON, Calif. — A patchy crowd of 11,044 at Dignity Health Sports Park Saturday night watched the United States’ men’s national team close out the year with a 1-0 friendly result against a young Bosnia and Herzegovina squad, thanks to a late Cole Bassett goal.

The first 10 minutes of the match passed with both squads feeling out the game. Gregg Berhalter’s players emerged with the more generally cohesive and effective plan, one which yielded up a prime opportunity for Ricardo Pepi, courtesy of a tasty Brooks Lennon pass in the 21st minute, but Pepi didn’t make good contact with the ball and failed to put his shot on frame, even from inside the box.

“They embraced it,” said Berhalter of the exhibition challenge faced by his squad of mostly offseason players from Major League Soccer. “It wasn’t pretty, but you saw the grit and determination.”

USA goalkeeper Matt Turner only had to make three saves from outside shots in the first half, but Bosnia and Herzegovina were lively in generating attacks around the U.S. box. Central defenders Walker Zimmerman and Henry Kessler did well leading the defense in snuffing them out.

In what could have been a fairy-tale return to USMNT action after years away due to injury, in the 31st minute, forward Jordan Morris dove for a header shot from an excellent Jesús Ferreira pass that was adroitly saved by Nikola Cetkovic.

“[Morris] really pushed hard this year to get to the point of getting called back in,” praised Berhalter. “I’m excited to see what he can do in January.”

Kellyn Acosta ended up making the crucial play of the first half, taking a crunching tackle from 21-year-old Begic Amar in the 40th minute. Referee Keylor Herrera didn’t hesitate to pull out the red card for the midfielder.

Suddenly a match that had been more open, with multiple chances for both sides, became a cagey situation. Bosnia and Herzegovina’s coach, Ivaylo Petev, made defensive substitutions to start the second half, putting in a fresh goalkeeper, Dizdarevic Belmin, and a defender, Pidro Selmir, to replace forward Krpic Sulejman.

Now tasked with the responsibility of breaking down a compact and defensive opponent content to only counterattack, the American squad appeared befuddled and unsure. Though dominant in possession, they were woefully short of ideas. Passing the ball back and forth in the opponent’s half and occasionally serving a ball into a crowded box did not produce many opportunities.

The cheers that greeted the entrance of local hometown favorite Gyasi Zardes could also be construed as fervent appeals for the forward to do something, anything to put the USA on the board.

Jonathan Gómez, making his USMNT debut, along with Cade Cowell, another first-time international, helped open things up some for the USA side, though it seemed it would be too little, too late.

The Americans were unable to score until in the 89th minute, with USA attacking the box with fervor, when Bassett, another debutant, connected to a Gomez setup from close range, rocketing a shot into the goal. The young midfielder ran first to one side of the field to celebrate, before suddenly switching directions, perhaps remembering where friends were sitting in the stadium.

“I got so much better from the start to the end of the [training] camp,” said Bassett after the game. “It’s good to have multiple weeks under Gregg to get to learn a style so that if you do get called upon for important games that you know exactly what you need to do to help the team win.”

The win put the USMNT into the record books, as it was its 17th victory of the year, which marks the most wins ever by a senior American men’s soccer team in a calendar year.